Only three community members attended to speak about the proposed increased rates and alternative rate structures during the Cape Fear Utility Public Authority board meeting.
The meeting, held on March 13 at the Government Center, was moved from its normal time at 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to allow customers an opportunity to voice comments and concerns about the rates.
Chad O’Shields, a resident who has been following the discussion and attending CFPUA financial committee meetings, said the tiered rate structure is punitive to families in the area.
“The number of people in a household directly affects the amount of water used,” said O’Shields, who is one of a five-member household.
He opposed the financial committee’s preferred three scenarios for new rate structures. The committee’s top scenario, scenario A, would establish two rates based on volume: Customers using fewer than 6,000 gallons would pay $2.90 per 1,000 gallons, and customers using more than 6,000 gallons would pay $3.67 per 1,000 gallons. The first rate would equal just 85 percent of the cost of water.
“To me, it was very unclear to call it a uniform rate,” O’Shields said. “It’s an inclining block rate. ... The block rate is discriminatory. Families are charged a high price for their basic water needs.”
Treasurer Mike Brown stressed that currently 81 percent of the 67,000 CFPUA water customers are paying below the cost of water. He said he thinks it is unfair for business owners to pay for the brunt of water.
“The tiered system does have its merits,” Brown said. “No. 1, the inclining block system; it encourages people to conserve water, which is a good thing. I think we’re at the end of the stream. We’re not Atlanta, Ga., where we have a small pond that we pull out of and a city that’s growing or we’re going to have water problems. We’re at the end of the Cape Fear River. There’s nobody below us, so as long as it’s flowing over the dam, we might as well sell it and use it. I think we kind of benefit from being at the end of the river, so I don’t know if conservation is as big of a problem as it might be in other markets, like Atlanta, Ga., or Raleigh, for instance.”
Before the public hearing, Cheryl Spivey, chief financial officer, presented the three proposed scenarios that would generate an additional 4 percent in revenues to fund the fiscal year 2013 budget, increasing revenues to $65.1 from $62.53 million. The majority of the increase would come from sewer fixed charges.
“It’s more expensive to maintain and operate our sewer system,” Spivey said.
The estimated average customer usage in the presentation was 10,000 gallons. The raw data has the average at 9,200 gallons, and the median usage at 7,000 gallons.
CFPUA board members have a month to discuss the information presented at the meeting, before voting at the April 10 meeting. Any changes would go into effect May 1.